Title: Aristeia

Author: Girl Who Writes

Characters: Sif, Sif/Loki

Word Count: 1392

Rating: M

Genre: Horror, Angst, Drama

Summary: She is so tired of this fear, that lays so heavy upon her shoulders. There might have been a time when fear was something easily discarded but she will not think of those things that have come before. Not now. Not yet.

Notes: I just want to thank everyone for the lovely reviews. I haven't had time to reply to them yet but I plan to sit down in the next day or two and reply to every single one. Thank you all for taking the time to review and leave kudos. You are awesome and lovely and amazing.

I will also take the time to mention that this arc is going to be much longer than the first one, and this fic is going to be much longer than I ever anticipated.

Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer: The MCU belongs to Marvel and Disney, and I make no profits from this fan-based venture.

part fiveit's thoughts like this that catch my troubled head

Five days, twenty two hours and three minutes.

She was wrong. It is getting better; or at the very least, easier. When she walks, it is with a limp and it is so very slow, but she can hold herself up and move around without someone hovering, trying so hard not to touch her - or without her grip embossing itself onto feeble furniture and railings. Without buckling and curling in on herself.

The sky is no less mesmerising, it's just the things under that perfect sky have been brought sharply into focus.

Food, too, has been brought to focus. It was the girl who talked too much - the Lady Darcy - who understood the quickest, as the others simpered at her to eat, just a mouthful, when it burns on the way down and on the way back up.

Lady Darcy watches her with quick, intelligent eyes and a resourcefulness she wonders if anyone else has noted. Against the strongest of wills, she is victorious with her words, with her arguments. Lady Darcy is sly and sweet and careful. She is always smiling and laughing, and she would do anything, anything, to make sure that girl doesn't ever stop smiling, that she is never given a reason to.

Darcy brings her small things, at first. Mostly brightly-coloured drinks in frost-edged glasses, because they have all noticed how she prefers the cold (having her body licked black by both flames and ice, it is the fire she remembers so clearly when she sleeps and she cannot bear it anymore, must ward herself against it).

Then there are thin soups, little more than beverages, served tepid (Darcy is kind, and says it is because her hands still shake sometimes, and not because she cannot bring herself to touch anything radiating heat, the old fear of her skin sticking and melting and cracking into fine ash...). Then there are thick, whipped drinks and sweets. Darcy brings her Midgardian candy in enormous bags and brushes off criticisms from the Doctor (Bruce) and the Captain (Steve).

The sweetness is a reassurance that Darcy cannot know to offer, against the memories of choking on blood and dirt, ash and teeth; tastes that still linger, reminding and threatening. The candy joins her in her soft, broken little world of clothing that hangs loosely, of blankets and a few remaining bandages, of light and soft voices and the ticking of the second hand.

She sees the hurt in the eyes of the ones she knew in a time before this. They see her reach for the Captain or the Widow when she stumbles; see her check for the Archer with curiosity and a kind of fondness.

It is sharp betrayal in Loki's eyes when he sees Fandral carefully cut through several inches of her battered hair (her knuckles white. hands twisted in her lap, with the idea he had a blade so close to her throat) and gently twist it into a long plait.

It is soft hurt in Thor's eyes that she will not venture near him if he bears his accursed hammer.

She still doesn't speak. But then, nothing needs to be said. They hear the screaming when she sleeps (it is always Loki that wakes her, looking as panicked as she feels). She doesn't know what she says when she screams, what cruelties slip through when she dreams but Loki is always there, his eyes wild and horror struck.

He never touches her, when she is awake. It's better that way.

The daylight hours are filled in hundreds of small ways. They are so careful and kind around her, including her even when their words are syrupy and incoherent once they reach her ears. Sometimes, she wonders what they were like before they brought her here, if her presence broke something they had together – something less deliberate, but hard won and greatly missed.

The healing stone the Doctor gave her upon her arrival is her touchstone, the scent reminding her of home – a hazy concept in her mind that is little more than something that calms her; there are no people that come to mind, no certain place. Just gold and light and the smell of herbs and magic. The Captain and Tony have both suggested she use it on her remaining wounds and scars, that are healing slowly, because it is the last one (ever? For her? She is uncertain) but she keeps it whole, within reach with the ever-present glass of water.

She spends an entire afternoon watching the Archer trying to steal her candy without being caught, watches the Doctor read steadily, carefully; watches Tony watch her in something that perhaps has turned into some kind of game because he pulls a chair into the centre of the room and stares at her more obviously a few minutes in.

She finds it curious, interesting, that Tony is movement, is talking and asking and answering except when he approaches her. No questions, even though she can see them bubbling underneath the surface, twisting and reforming and multiplying as he looks at her, and she is grateful that he holds them back, for now.

She wonders what he sees when he stares at her, if he looks for what is rippling just beyond the surface. If he recognizes what he sees.

The calm, easiness of the afternoon is broken as the sun sinks below the horizon, and they all gather together. The Archer's pile of candy wrappers is discovered to the general disapproval of the room, and Tony's concentration is shattered; he is skittering, distracted and talking again.

The small piece of candy forgotten in her hands is remembered once more as the Archer scowls, and she holds it out to him, and maybe there is a ghost of a smile on her lips or maybe that's just wishful thinking. He looks at her with an expression on his face she cannot describe, but she feels more exposed to his eyes than she did to Tony's gaze.

He takes the candy carefully, not touching her and nods once.

She has not noticed Loki, slipping into the room, swathed in black and looking haunted and almost accusatory towards her. She tenses, and he notices, pausing for a moment before continuing his approach.

He stops before her, and for a moment, he is unsure and it is an unfamiliar thing upon him, awkward and ill-fitting. In the worst of her memories, he is always so certain, so confident, his grip on his knives never faltering for a moment, and to see him lingering before her in such a way is jarring in a way that makes the memory of him inhuman, intangible, unreal.

He sits uncomfortably beside her, obviously and carefully measuring the distance between them.

Sometimes in that half-way place between sleep and awake, when she is trying to drag herself from her horrors, the memory of his hands upon her face when they found her is enough to calm her. She wonders if that means anything, because she finds the memory of the Captain's reassuring hand over hers offers the same sort of comfort, or if her desperation is simply clawing and clinging to anything that holds it all back.

He sighs and she wonders if he has been speaking to her, and she has lost the words again. But he leans over, enough that she presses herself back into the couch to maintain distance, and reaches out for her water glass.

Magic is acrid and alive on the back of her tongue and in the air as he calls it to hand and she watches a fine lace of frost form over the glass.

"You loved that trick when we were small." His words are self-deprecating and there is an edge there, a small misery, something uncovered that whispers at the edge of her mind but, for now, is misplaced.

What she offered the Archer was not the ghost of a smile, barely even the idea of one, because she offers one to Loki now.

Because amongst pillows and blankets, water and candy, there is something soft and safe in the idea of his child-self making patterns in frost and ice just for her long-ago child-self, for no other reason than because she loved it.